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Howdy, Weird Gramma here with “WeirdFins,” all about strange stuff in the sea, and brought to you by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And how’s this for strange: a critter that spins a new web of sticky mucus every day and lives inside it! This jelly web looks like a big cloud of snot, and the animal that lives inside it is called a larvacean.
Larvaceans are tunicates, animals with a primitive spinal cord but no real backbone. They live in the open ocean, and their floating balloons are really big filters for feeding. The tadpole-shaped larvacean inside pumps water, plankton, and suspended debris into the web by beating its tail. Even giant larvaceans are only about the size of your little finger, but their houses are sometimes more than 3 feet in diameter, longer than a yardstick!
The reason some larvaceans build a new house every day is that that after filtering all kinds of gunk, the web gets clogged with debris. So the critter just throws its house away and builds a new one, and the old web sinks to the sea bottom like a collapsing parachute. Wouldn’t you like to just throw your messy bedroom away and get a new one every day? But these mucus sacs are important to a healthy ocean. For a long time, scientists wondered how deep-sea critters could get enough food since most ocean plants and animals are at the surface. What researchers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute found was that larvaceans’ discarded houses, called sinkers, are really a treasury of food particles for all that life on the sea floor. You’ll probably never see the house of giant larvacean in person--they’re so fragile, they break apart before they can be brought to the surface. But you can see pictures of a giant larvacean on the National Marine Fisheries Service WeirdFins link at www.nmfs.noaa.gov.
Mackerel Icefish - Antifreeze Fish
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Weird Gramma here with “WeirdFins,” all about strange stuff in the sea, and brought to you by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Did you know there are fish whose bodies contain antifreeze, like the stuff that keeps a car’s cooling water from freezing? Yep, it’s true! Many kinds of cod-icefishes, which live near the South Pole, make a kind of antifreeze so that the icy water doesn’t kill them. Here’s how it works.
Water turns into ice at what’s called the freezing point, and if you’re in water at that point for more than a few minutes, ice crystals will begin to form in your flesh and innards, and then destroy your body cells. This happens to most fish and other animals, too. But the cod-icefish’s antifreeze particles attach to ice crystals and make it hard for the crystals to grow.
Now, this is a pretty nifty trick, and some crafty humans have figured out that this cod-icefish antifreeze could be useful to us, too. So the stuff is now being used to help improve the quality of frozen foods, and protect blood cells, transplant organs, and other tissues that are frozen for later medical use.
Here’s another weird thing about one group of these critters: They’re the only known vertebrates—animals with backbones—that lack hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is that stuff in blood that carries oxygen to all the cells. But because icy Antarctic waters are loaded with so much oxygen, these cod-icefishes can absorb all the oxygen they need directly through their skin. And with no hemoglobin, which is what makes blood bright red, these fish have blood that’s completely transparent! The clear-blooded icefishes aren’t fished for food, but a cousin, the Chilean sea bass, is popular. . . .and delicious!You can see pictures of cod-icefishes on the National Marine Fisheries Service WeirdFins link at www.nmfs.noaa.gov.
Deep-Sea Anglerfish - Big Mom, Tiny Dad
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Howdy, Weird Gramma here with “WeirdFins,” all about strange stuff in the sea, and brought to you by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Have you heard about the world’s tiniest fish, a deep-sea male anglerfish? It’s only a quarter-inch long, about the size of a pencil eraser! What’s really creepy, though, is that this guy is permanently attached as a parasite on the back of his mate, who’s much, much larger.
Now, deep-sea anglerfish species are all pretty weird, and some species are over three feet long, the size of a three-year old child. But the species we’re talking about is real tiny. Females are only two inches long, with jelly-like bodies and no scales, and look like they’re mostly just one big head. The mouth, though, is gigantic and with fang-like teeth, and on top of the head is a kind of fishing rod that ends in a little flap of flesh. This tiny flap glows with its own, built-in light produced by special bacteria and it looks like a piece of bait when the anglerfish wiggles it. When a fish swims by and is attracted to the wobbling bait—slurp!—Mama Angler’s got her dinner! Which has to feed the male, too, since he’s a parasite.
How did he get that way? Well, female anglers don’t swim around much, so when a young male spots that shiny lure, he latches onto her back with his otherwise useless teeth. After a while, his body fuses with hers and so he’s right there to fertilize the eggs when she sheds them into the sea. Sometimes, there’s even a bunch of these tiny males attached to the same female, but it doesn’t seem to bother her.
You can see pictures of these tiny anglerfishon the National Marine Fisheries Service WeirdFins link at www.nmfs.noaa.gov.
PODCAST (1.9 Mb)
Howdy, Weird Gramma here with “WeirdFins,” all about strange stuff in the sea, and brought to you by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. My neighbor says she saw a picture of a fish called a blobfish that looks just like her Uncle Walter, and wonders if there are other kinds of blobfish that look like other people. Well, no, all blobfish look pretty much like my neighbor’s Uncle Walter. And it’s probably not a good idea to tell Uncle Walter that the blobfish belongs to a group of fishes called fatheads.
This is one of the funniest fish faces in the ocean, although you’re not likely to see a blobfish since they live in very deep water off Australia. In fact, it’s pretty rare for anyone to see blobfish, although they’re sometimes taken in nets hauled in by Australia’s deepwater fishing fleet. They really do look like a big, blobby tadpole, just a mass of pale, jelly-like flesh with puffy, loose skin, a big nose, and beady, staring eyes. But looking like a floppy water balloon is what actually helps the blobfish make a living. This guy just sort of floats above the sea floor so it doesn’t have to spend a lot of energy swimming around, sort of like when you float in the water wearing a life jacket.
Blobfish seem to grow only to about 12 inches, about as long as a comic book. No one has seen them feed, but scientists think blobfish probably just open that big mouth and let little particles drift in—this is not a critter built to chase down its food.
You can see pictures of blobfish on the National Marine Fisheries Service WeirdFins link at www.nmfs.noaa.gov.
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Weird Gramma here with “WeirdFins,” all about strange stuff in the sea, and brought to you by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And, boy, how strange is this: Sponges that are carnivores, that is, they eat meat! Most of these sponges were only recently discovered in deep oceans and off Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, but some live in shallow underwater caves in the Mediterranean Sea. These are habitats that don’t have many nutrients in the water, so this adaptation is a pretty nifty way of making sure to get lunch.
Now, sponges can be really colorful and pretty, but they’re quite primitive animals and don’t have a stomach or digestive system like most other animals. So most sponges feed by sifting bacteria and other tiny particles in the water through many tiny openings. The particles break down into molecules which are then just absorbed into the sponge’s cells. But not carnivorous sponges! When a tiny shrimp or other invertebrate (the animals without backbones) swims by a carnivorous sponge, the meat-eater throws out teensy fishing lines with hooks that act like Velcro to entangle the prey. Then new sponge tissue grows around the lunch item, which is broken down by bacteria and chemicals called enzymes, and the nutritious particles are absorbed by the individual cells of these Spongezillas.
All the meat-eating sponge species are pretty small, most of them about the size of your pencil eraser, but the things they eat are often twice their own size and can take awhile to digest. It usually takes you a couple of hours to digest your cheeseburger and fries—a little longer if you throw in a shake—but it can take carnivorous sponges 8 to 10 days to finish off a shrimp dinner!
You can see these sponges on the National Marine Fisheries Service WeirdFins link at www.nmfs.noaa.gov.
Hawaiian Puffer - Cute but Deadly
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Howdy, Weird Gramma here with “WeirdFins,” all about strange stuff in the sea, and brought to you by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. My friend Ariel in Wheaton, Maryland, likes cute fish, but here’s a cutie that’s more poisonous than a rattlesnake. It’s a kind of puffer called the balloonfish, also called blowfish and globefish. Some balloonfish are among the most poisonous animals on earth, and one of the most deadly kind has enough toxin to kill 30 adult humans! Puffers don’t poison people from bites, though, like rattlesnakes, because the toxin is in the innards, so it’s eating puffers that can be dangerous.
Chefs in Japan, Korea, and Thailand are real careful while they’re preparing puffer meat—called fugu—but tiny bits of the poison sometimes end up in a plate of puffer and kill the customer who paid $200 for it! But folks still eat them, sometimes just for the adventure of tempting death. And sometimes, that’s what they get. In some years, more than 50 people die in Japan from eating fugu. Not smart: even the ancient Egyptians knew 4,000 years ago not to eat puffers! But puffer poisoning has happened even in America, where the little fish are called sea squab, or chicken of the sea. So in certain nearshore waters of Florida where some puffers are known to be poisonous, commercial fishermen aren’t allowed to sell them.
There are more than a hundred kinds of puffers in the world, and most are pretty cute, especially when they inflate with water or air to make themselves look bigger than a fish eyeing them for lunch. A predator may also remember that a previously eaten puffer gave it a pretty bad bellyache, and leave other puffers alone.
Check out the puffers on the National Marine Fisheries Service WeirdFins link at www.nmfs.noaa.gov.
Geoduck Clam - The Pacific Geoduck
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Weird Gramma here with “WeirdFins,” all about strange stuff in the sea, and brought to you by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Today’s weird thing is the Pacific geoduck, which isn’t a duck, and it isn’t gooey. It’s a humongous Pacific Coast clam whose name comes from the word “gwe-duk” in the language of the Native American Nisqually Tribe; it means “dig deep.” Some settler who couldn’t spell wrote it down as “G-E-O-D-U-C-K” and the misspelling stuck.
Now, this dude is the biggest burrowing clam in the world. It grows to about 3 feet and over 7 pounds, ’though fishermen report taking some 6-footers weighing more than 16 pounds—that’s as much your Thanksgiving turkey! And geoducks are some of the longest-living of all animals, reaching at least 168 years!
But it’s their shape and their deep digging that make them really weird. Most of a geoduck sticks outside the little dinky shell as a very long neck, with two holes at the end like an elephant’s trunk. This neck pokes out of the geoduck burrow to siphon phytoplankton—tiny marine plants—for meals. And geoducks are wedged so tightly in the deep burrows that otters, fish, and other predators just can’t dislodge them. Except for humans. Some are harvested by divers with special tools, some in special aquaculture farms, and some are harvested on beaches when the tide goes out. Geoduck harvesting’s a lot of fun to watch because most people just can’t pry the stubborn critters out.
Do geoducks taste good? You bet—at least once you get their tough skin off. And people in Washington State are so fond of the things that the Evergreen State College in Oympia adopted the geoduck as it's official mascot!' You can see geoducks on the National Marine Fisheries Service WeirdFins link at www.nmfs.noaa.gov.
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Weird Gramma here, and this is “WeirdFins,” all about strange stuff in the sea, and brought to you by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Well, Pat in Tigard, Oregon, has heard of a cigar-shaped thing that can hurl its innards out its rear end and then grow ‘em again!
Well, Pat, this is a sea cucumber, and more than a thousand species live all over the world. They’re related to starfish and sea urchins, but they have a soft, leathery skin instead of hard spines. Some sea cukes are ugly and some are pretty, some live nearshore and some, miles down in ocean trenches. Some can swim, some hide in the sand, and some just chug along the sea floor. One kind is the size of a kidney bean, but another is 15 feet—as long as a car!
Most sea cucumbers scavenge for their food. This exposes them to crabs and other creatures that want to eat them so sea cukes have a nifty defense: They shoot a wad of sticky threads from their rear end that entangles the attacking crab while the sea cuke sneaks away to re-grow its innards. If you handle this goo, you can get a bad skin rash, and if the stuff gets in your eyes, it can cause blindness! So fishermen who harvest sea cukes tend to be real careful.
Sea cucumbers are sold for Asian cooking, where they’re called trepang or bêche-de-mer. Some species have toxins used for medical research, and some kinds are popular for home aquaria. And in the Pacific Islands, fishermen not only use them for fish bait but use the gooey threads as bandages on bleeding wounds.
Sea cucumbers are real important to healthy oceans. They grind stuff into finer particles that are part of the sea’s great nutrient cycle. So, too much fishing for them ruin bottom habitat for other animals.
You can see pictures of sea cucumbers on the on the National Marine Fisheries Service WeirdFins link at www.nmfs.noaa.gov.
PODCAST (1.9 Mb)
Well, hi! Weird Gramma, here, and this is "WeirdFins," all about strange stuff in the sea,and brought to you by NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Got a question here from Logan, in Metairie, Louisiana, who asks if it’s true that there's a kind of sea slug that weighs as much as a cocker spaniel.
Hoo, yes, Logan! The California sea hare is one big dude! It's a mollusc, so it's related to snails and clams. But its dinky little shell is inside the big, slippery body, so a sea hare can't pull back into its shell for protection. It's called a sea hare because it has two tentacles on its head that look like rabbit ears. Sea hares get to 30 pounds and 16 inches long, and you may have seen these godzillas in shallow water, munching on sea grass or seaweed. And if they eat red algae, the slugs can squirt out a big cloud of purple ink and escape from a fish eyeing them for its dinner. Is this not cool? Don't you wish you could shoot out a purple cloud and escape when your mom puts liver casserole on the dinner table?
Can you eat sea hares? Well, I haven't met anyone who has tried them, although people elsewhere in the world eat other kinds of sea slugs, like the big orange one found off Japan. But they’re useful anyway because they have really big nerve cells that make them ideal for medical studies. Sea hares even have their own research center down in Florida, at the University of Miami!
Gotta warn you, though: Sea hares are hard to keep in captivity so make sure that any sea hares you see at the shore stay there. If you try to bring one home, you’ll end up with a big, dead blob, a stinky bucket of slime, and a really angry mom.
WeirdFins is brought to you by NOAA Fisheries. You can learn more about sea hares on NOAA Web sites, www.noaa.gov, using the search term "sea hares".
Horn Shark - The Shark's Purse
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Howdy, Weird Gramma here with “WeirdFins,” all about strange stuff in the sea, and brought to you by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Now, Kristin, in La Cañada, California, asks if it’s true that some sharks carry purses. Well, yes, but maybe not like you’re thinking. The sharks are “horn sharks” and the “purses” are really their egg cases being carried in the mother’s mouth. Egg cases are laid by some kinds of sharks, and most skates and stingrays. After the pups hatch out, egg cases sometimes wash up on the shore and beachcombers call them “mermaids’ purses.”
Most egg cases have points or long, curlicue strings that attach to seaweed. But horn shark egg cases are big corkscrews, and unlike other sharks, the mother horn shark does a little parental care. She carries each egg case in her mouth while it’s still soft, looking for rocks to protect it until the pup hatches 8 or 9 months later. When she finds a good spot, she sort of screws the egg case into the rocky crevice, and when it hardens, most predators can’t get to it.
Horn sharks get their name from the thick, white spines at the front of the dorsal, or top, fins. Even the newborn pups have sharp little spines that help them from becoming lunch for larger fish. All of the 11 kinds of horn sharks are smaller than you are, and most of their teeth are blunt to help them crunch sea urchins, crabs, and other bottom-dwelling critters. They’re not often sold at markets or restaurants, but you can see horn sharks in many large aquariums and sea parks.
You can see pictures of horn sharks on the National Marine Fisheries Service WeirdFins link at www.nmfs.noaa.gov.
PODCAST (1.9 Mb)
“WeirdFins” here, all about strange stuff in the sea, and I’m Weird Gramma. This one’s for Bill in Alexandria, Virginia, and it’s about a real-life sea monster that’s shiny silver and has a big red crest on its head. Well, Bill, this is really an oarfish, and at 50 feet, probably the longest of all fishes. Whale and basking sharks are a little shorter, but much heavier—20 tons or so. That’s as much as four elephants!
Maybe this guy’s called an oarfish because the long, red fin running along its back makes the body look like a boat oar,, or because it has long paddle-shaped fins below the head. But this thing is about as flat as you can get, like a giant ribbon, which is why it’s also called a ribbonfish. And because it’s silvery like a herring, some people call it “king of herrings.” When an oarfish swims, it looks like a long, skinny flag waving in the water. Sick and dying oarfish float at the surface, which is why old-time sailors mistook them for sea serpents. The only real sea serpents, of course, are sea snakes, and most of them are only 3 to 6 feet long.
But an oarfish can weigh as much as 3 big men, up to 600 pounds, although it’s pretty wimpy, with a dinky head and mouth only good for feeding on tiny plankton. Do people eat them? Well, smaller ones are sometimes caught by fishermen, but their flesh is flabby and gooey, so you won’t find them in many seafood restaurants. And although they’re most common in warmer seas, you probably won’t see a living oarfish because they live in oceans that are very deep.
You can see what an oarfish looks like on the National Marine Fisheries Service WeirdFins link at www.nmfs.noaa.gov.
Oyster Toadfish - The Noisy Toadfish
PODCAST (1.9 Mb)
“WeirdFins” again, all about strange stuff in the sea, and I’m Weird Gramma. My friends Rachel and Liam, in Virginia, want to know about an ugly fish that lives along the Atlantic shoreline and sounds like a foghorn. Well, this is the oyster toadfish, also called “oyster cracker” because it loves to break open oysters and devour them. We are talking world-class loud and ugly, but this fish turns out to be pretty important to humans!
Toadfish are only about a foot long, and shaped like a big tadpole, with a really big head and mouth like a frog’s. These guys are camouflaged to look like their surroundings—usually shell or rocky bottoms, or shallow-water garbage dumps—so they can just lie still and ambush small fish or crabs if there aren’t any oysters around. Both males and females use an air-filled bag next to their backbone to make a loud grunting sound. But it’s the male in mating season that sounds like a booming foghorn to attract a female to lay eggs in his nest. Then he guards the eggs until they hatch.
Toadfish are common, but not very meaty, so few fishermen try to catch ‘em for food. The reason they’re important to us is that they’re used in medical studies, because their ear canals are similar to ours. So they’ve been used in studies of diabetes, hearing, dizziness, and seasickness, and in fact, NASA sent two toadfish on a space shuttle mission with astronaut and Senator John Glenn in 1997 to study how gravity affects balance.
If you go fishing and catch an oyster toadfish, be real careful when removing the hook. Those powerful jaws that can crush an oyster can do some major damage to your fingers!
You can see pictures of toadfish on the National Marine Fisheries Service WeirdFins link at www.nmfs.noaa.gov.
Electric Ray - The Zapper Fish
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Weird Gramma here with “WeirdFins,” all about strange stuff in the sea, and brought to you by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Now, Salma in San Diego, California, wonders why a fish out there is called a torpedo, like the undersea explosive device. Well, Salma, “torpedo” is a Latin word meaning “stiffness,” or “numbness,” and that sure fits here. That torpedo, also called the Pacific electric ray, can generate a pretty good electric jolt that not only numbs the creatures it eats, but can also zap human swimmers when it feels threatened.
Electric rays are flat as a plate, with the mouth on the underside like stingrays, and they’re closely related to them. Like sharks, rays have a skeleton of cartilage instead of bone and use a series of gill slits to breathe. The Pacific electric ray grows to about 5 feet, about the size of a 12-year-old kid.
But I’ll bet you want to know how the torpedo’s electricity works. Well, this living zapper has masses of special cells in two organs behind its head that send out electric pulses. During the day, electric rays lie on the sandy bottom and feed by discharging bursts of electricity that stun fish swimming above them. At night, though, the rays are more active, using bursts of electricity to detect a prey animal, then lunging forward and paralyzing it with stronger electric jolts.
Can an electric ray kill you? Well, so far no human has been reported seriously injured by a ray’s electric shock. One measure of electricity is voltage and an electric ray’s discharge only reaches about 50 volts. It generally takes more than 500 volts to kill someone, although much lower voltage can stun a person or damage the heart.
You can see electric rays on the National Marine Fisheries Service WeirdFins link at www.nmfs.noaa.gov.
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Howdy, Weird Gramma here with “WeirdFins,” all about strange stuff in the sea, and brought to you by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. You want strange? How about the hagfish, the slimiest, gooeyist fish in the sea. It’s about two feet long and sometimes called a slime eel. They’re the most primitive of all vertebrates—animals with a backbone. There are about 66 kinds and they all look like real ugly eels. But hagfish don’t have useful eyes, or even a real head. And no jaws, either, just a fleshy mouth with a two hard, rasping tongues that grind a hole into dead or dying critters to feast on the flesh and innards.
Hagfish have only one nostril, but it’s really good at sniffing out dead things, including fish on fishermen’s hooks or in traps. Pretty disgusting, though, to pull up a trap and sees that each dead fish is just a bag of skin and bones with a slimy hagfish inside. The goo comes from sacs on the belly, and its purpose is to keep the hagfish safe from predators. But put it in a bucket, and a few minutes, the bucket is completely filled with slime—it looks like a revolting pail of snot.
Hagfish mostly hang out on soft, mucky bottoms, sometimes in very deep water. They’re scavengers, so they’re important in keeping the sea floor clean. And they’re important for other reasons. Their soft, supple skin is used to make the expensive wallets, belts and other leather goods sold as eelskin. And the meat is exported to Asia as a delicacy. But so many hagfish are taken along our coasts that it may soon be necessary to set rules for conserving the ugly—but valuable—hagfish.
You can see pictures of hagfish on the National Marine Fisheries Service WeirdFins link at www.nmfs.noaa.gov.
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Well, hi! Weird Gramma here, and this is “WeirdFins,” all about strange stuff in the sea, and brought to you by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Ginny in Biloxi, Mississippi, wants to know if there’s really a kind of ocean pillbug more than a foot long.
Yep, and it’s related to the pillbugs that live under flower pots in your garden, those half-inch-long gray thingies that roll into a ball when they’re scared. Pillbugs are also known as sowbugs, armadillo bugs, and roly-poly bugs, and in England, folks call ‘em cheesybugs and daddy gampfers. They’re in a scientific group named “isopods.” “Pod means foot,” and “isopod” means the feet are about the same length. Isopods are related to lobsters and crabs, but the one you’re asking about sure wouldn’t fit under a flower pot! It can grow to 3 pounds and 16 inches!
Can you see these giant pillbugs at the beach? Well, no, because they live in deep water off North America, in the Caribbean, and off Japan. How deep? Sometimes to more than a mile down, in ice-cold water that’s black as ink.
One thing that makes these isopods spooky is the way they feed, boogieing around on the lookout for dead whales and fish. But they also grab whatever live things they can. Food’s scarce that deep, so these bad boys sometimes go for weeks without finding anything. And when they do, they really pig out and can hardly move.
Do people eat these monsters? Well, not commonly, since fishermen don’t usually set their nets or traps that deep. But they’re sometimes caught and end up in Puerto Rican markets, or in Taiwan’s seaside restaurants where some say they’re as tasty as lobster. Creepy, but tasty.
You can see pictures of giant ocean pillbugs on the National Marine Fisheries Service WeirdFins link at www.nmfs.noaa.gov.
Sand Tiger Shark
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It’s Weird Gramma again, and this is “WeirdFins,” all about strange stuff in the sea, and brought to you by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This time, it’s about baby shark cannibals that eat their brothers and sisters before any of them are even born!
Yep, it’s true, and the shark we’re talking about is the sand tiger. Now, after sharks mate, some lay eggs that hatch out later. But most kinds bear their young live, and in some, like great white sharks and makos, the pups develop inside the mother, in a soft bag called an eggcase. They’re nourished in there by egg yolk, but after the yolk’s all used up, they still stay inside the mother and eat the unfertilized eggs, the ones that didn’t develop. So when they’re finally born, these babies are pretty big, and that does a lot to discourage hungry predators. White sharks are about 5 feet long when they’re born, almost as long as your bed! Think about that when you put on your pj’s tonight!
But with sand tigers, the developing pups don’t just eat the egg yolk. The first one or two pups that hatch from the soft eggcases gobble up their all their unhatched brothers and sisters, so they get nice and big, too, almost 3 feet long!
Now, even though they’re huge, each mother sand tiger bears only one or two pups every year, and they grow real slow, so there’s never been a whole lot of sand tiger sharks. And now, fishing and pollution have reduced their number to dangerously low levels. Like all sharks, sand tigers are real important to healthy oceans, so we need to protect and conserve them.
Check out all the NOAA Web sites that are loaded with interesting stuff on sand tigers and other sharks. And you can see pictures of sand tiger sharks on the National Marine Fisheries Service WeirdFins link at www.nmfs.noaa.gov.
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Howdy, Weird Gramma here with “WeirdFins,” all about strange stuff in the sea, and brought to you by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And today’s strange thing is the Yeti crab, a really fluffy crustacean that’s sometimes called a furry lobster and lives in the Pacific Ocean off South America. It was discovered in 2005 by researchers from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California, using a deep-sea submersible from the famous Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.
Now this critter’s only about six inches long, and it’s called the Yeti, like the abominable snowman of the Himalayas because it has light, silky hair all over its legs and claws. It’s not really a lobster, or even like most crabs you’ve seen. It’s more closely related to the hermit crabs you find in tidepools. But this furball lives in water a mile and a half deep where it’s inky black because no sunlight reaches that deep. Eyes aren’t very useful there, so the Yeti crab doesn’t have any.
And its hairs are really bristles that are loaded with bacteria, the germs that mostly keep us healthy but sometimes make us sick. No one’s sure why these critters have these bristles, but some scientists think it’s because they live near deep-sea lava flows and spouts called vents. Vents are sort of like Yellowstone Park’s Old Faithful geyser and the deep-sea ones spew out all kinds of chemicals. So the Yeti’s bristles and bacteria may help filter out that stuff. But other scientists think Yeti crabs may grow the bacteria to eat, although Yetis also eat mussels, shrimp, and other things.
Check out the Yeti crab pictures on the National Marine Fisheries Service WeirdFins link at www.nmfs.noaa.gov.